The OFM Custody of St Anthony (Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei) officially became an autonomous custody on April 25. This was declared by Friar Massimo Fusarelli OFM, the 121st successor of St Francis of Assisi and Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor (OFM).
Prior to this, the Custody of St Anthony was under the Province of the Holy Spirit (Australia-New Zealand). The Minister General also named the new administration with Friar Derrick Yap as Custos, Friar Michael D’Cruz as Vicar, Friars Vernon Chua, David Au, Esmond Chua and Aiden Peter as Councillors.
The OFM Custody of St Anthony (Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei) has 36 solemnly professed friars, including 18 Malaysians, 16 Singaporeans, one Sri Lankan, and one Filipino. There are eight friars-in-formation, including five Malaysians and three Singaporeans.
The friars have also been given charge of four parishes: the Church of St Ann in Kuching, Church of St Joseph in Johor, Church of the Risen Christ in Penang and Church of St Mary of the Angels in Singapore.
In his speech during the pronouncement, Friar Massimo Fusarelli exhorted the friars to “be the face of an Order and Church that speaks to the people of God in a way that is deeply Singapore, authentically Malaysia, and, as we say, truly Asia.”
The friars in Singapore-Malaysia expressed their gratitude to the Australian Friars of the Province of the Holy Spirit who were represented by the current and past Provincial Ministers and the Provincial Secretary. There was also a moment of silence to remember the friars who had gone before them.
That evening, the Minister General celebrated a Thanksgiving Mass at the Church of St Mary of the Angels. Fellow religious, parishioners, benefactors, and friends participated in the joyous occasion. During the Mass, Friar Nelson Evarinus from Sabah was admitted to the Ministry of Acolyte, and all the solemnly professed friars recommitted themselves to the Franciscan Gospel way of life, dedicating themselves to becoming contemplative fraternities in mission.
The Custody launched a fund called St Anthony’s Touch, as a commitment to helping the poor and marginalised, and supporting mission and evangelisation efforts. During the launch, a cheque of RM50,000 was presented to Friar Don Don Ramerez, rector of St Ann’s Church (Kuching), to support the parish’s mission efforts in building houses for poor families in the villages under their pastoral care.
At the end of the Mass, Friar Massimo presented a gift to Friar Derrick – a first-class relic of Blessed Gabriele Allegra. Blessed Allegra is considered to be the initiator of the Franciscan presence in Singapore; it was he who requested the Vatican to set up a sociological institute in Singapore to offer an alternative to Communist ideas which were gaining ground in the 1950s. Blessed Allegra, better known among Chinese-speaking Catholics as Lei Yong Ming, is lauded for his work of translation of the entire Bible into Chinese with a team of fellow Franciscan friars.
The next day, the Minister General departed for Kota Kinabalu, Sabah where the friars had just established their latest presence in Malaysia. Here, Friar Massimo enjoyed a lively dialogue with the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception and 80 representatives of the Secular Franciscan Order, a fraction of a thriving community numbering 589 members currently in Sabah. The Minister General also paid a courtesy call to Archbishop John Wong of Kota Kinabalu, discussing current ministries of the friars and future possibilities of closer collaboration with the Archdiocese.
History of the Order of Friars Minor in the region
On March 28, 1957, Friar Vergil Mannion OFM arrived in Singapore by disembarking from the Peleus ship onto its soil. A group of Franciscan friars from Italy, America, and Hong Kong was brought to Singapore in 1957 to establish a sociological institute for outreach, research, and publications to counter communism after a dialogue between Rome, local Church leaders, and Franciscans.
On August 26, 1958, Archbishop Michael Olçomendy of Malacca-Singapore officially declared the presence and ministry of the Order of Friars Minor. Subsequently, the Vatican decreed the canonical establishment of this new community.
In May 1991, the Franciscan Custody of St Anthony in Malaysia- Singapore-Brunei, dependent on the Australian Province of the Holy Spirit, was officially constituted.
Source : Herald Malaysia